How I see numbers in every day life. Simple every day numbers most people never think about - but to me, complicated calculations demanding so much energy I get exhausted figuring out change, reading the bus schedule, going to the laundromat, reading letters from the bank, taking down phone numbers, reading an analog clock.
Dyscalculia Affects Roughly as Many People as Dyslexia
Students who struggle to learn mathematics may have a neurocognitive disorder that inhibits the acquisition of basic numerical and arithmetic concepts, according to a new paper. Specialized teaching for individuals with dyscalculia, the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia, should be made widely available in mainstream education, according to a review of current research published in the journalScience.
Although just as common as dyslexia, with an estimated prevalence of up to 7% of the population, dyscalculia has been neglected as a disorder of cognitive development. However, a world-wide effort by scientists and educators has established the essential neural network that supports arithmetic, and revealed abnormalities in this network in the brains of dyscalulic learners.
Neuroscience research shows what kind of help is most needed — strengthening simple number concepts. This can be achieved with appropriate specially-designed teaching schemes, which can be supported by game-like software that adapts to the learner’s current level of competence.
Professor Brian Butterworth, co-author of the paper and a member of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience (CEN) from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: “Dyscalculia is at least as much of a handicap for individuals as dyslexia and a very heavy burden on the state, with the estimated cost to the UK of low numeracy standing at £2.4 billion.”
“Nevertheless, there are only cursory references to the disorder on the Department of Education website — no indications are offered for help either for learners, teachers or parents. It’s as if the government does not want to acknowledge its existence.”
Like dyslexia, dyscalculia is a condition we are born with, and may be heritable in many or most cases. Research from twins and special populations suggests that an arithmetical disability has a large genetic component, but the genes responsible have not yet been located.
Professor Diana Laurillard, another co-author and a member of CEN from the Institute of Education (IOE), University of London, said: “Just because dyscalculia is inherited it does not mean that there is nothing that can be done about it. As with dyslexia, specialized teaching can help. At the IOE we have developed software resources specifically to help children with dyscalculia, based on brain research showing exactly what problems the brain is having.”
One of the main challenges of the effort to understand dyscalculia, is for scientists from these very different disciplines to understand each others’ methods and results. The creation of interdisciplinary and inter-institutional centres to promote joint work, such as the Centre for Educational Neuroscience established by UCL (University College London); the Institute of Education, University of London and Birkbeck University of London, aims to address this challenge.
Professor Laurillard added: “Results from neuroscience and developmental psychology tell us that dyscalculic learners need to practice far more number manipulation tasks than mainstream learners. Adaptive, game-like programs that focus on making numbers meaningful, emulating what skilled SEN teachers do, can help learners practice beyond the classroom and build the basic understanding they need to tackle arithmetic.”
What is dyscalculia?
Examples of common indicators of dyscalculia are (i) carrying out simple number comparison and addition tasks by counting, often using fingers, well beyond the age when it is normal, and (ii) finding approximate estimation tasks difficult. Individuals identified as dyscalculic behave differently from their mainstream peers, for example:
- To say which is the larger of two playing cards showing 5 and 8, they count all the symbols on each card.
- To place a playing card of 8 in sequence between a 3 and a 9 they count up spaces between the two to identify where the 8 should be placed.
- To count down from 10 they count up from 1 to 10, then 1 to 9, etc.
- To count up from 70 in tens, they say ‘70, 80, 90, 100, 200, 300…’
- They estimate the height of a normal room as ‘200 feet?’
Professor Brian Butterworth, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London and one of the world’s leading dyscalculia experts, was recently in Australia to give speeches on dyscalculia. He participated in an interview during his stay. You can hear the interview through this link, where Butterworth gives a brief explanation on what dyscalculia is, what research has shown so far, and what the consequences of dyscalculia can be - including depression, problems with getting a job and getting by.
Dyscalculia Day is an international event, aimed at spreading awareness about dyscalculia. The purpose is to get everyone to spread the word - literally. Tell a friend, tweet about it, facebook it, get the word out. Members of The Dyscalculia Forum started the event in 2008. Every year Dyscalculia Day is held on March 3. This year it’s a Thursday.
Are you planning to spread the word this year?
In 2010 a whole school in the UK decided to join the event!
Pupils at Sibford School near Banbury will be raising awareness of Dyscalculia … a specific learning disability in mathematics … when they take part in International Dyscalculia Day on Wednesday (March 3). Dyscalculia, sometimes known as Maths Dyslexia, affects between 4 – 6 per cent of the world’s population. Sibford teacher and dyscalculia specialist, Lyn Usher, said: “People who have dyscalculia have difficulty in learning and understanding maths in certain areas. “However, with additional support they can be helped to develop their numeracy skills which in turn increases their confidence and their enjoyment of mathematics. The important thing is that the condition is recognized, which is why days such as this are so important.” To help raise awareness of dyscalculia, pupils of all ages will be taking part in a range of maths and number games.
Pictured: Thumbs up to maths: 11-year-olds Charlie Bryant, Ailsa Hope, Josh Catton and Danielle Tharani.
I did finally solve the mystery of how the hell I ever managed to pound the times tables into my head: I think of them as phrases with a specific cadence, bypassing the math aspect altogether. “Six times seven is forty-TWO” instead of 6 * 7 = 42. And since I remember some better than others, if I have to multiply 7 * 6, it takes me a little longer—not as easy a rhythm.
Of course, if I go anywhere past the twelves for multiplication I need a bit of paper and a pen, and percentages and long division are things I’ll forever be bollixing up, but it’s very satisfying sometimes being the only person in a group who remembered her multiplication tables past third grade.
Oh what a tangled web we weave to get around our dyscalculia. I know a couple of dyscalculics that use entire pieces of paper to solve a simple problem like 12 times 6 - and although it takes a lot of time, the results are always right. And the only way they know how to do multiplication. Sadly, there’s no time for that system in school!
What helps me the most is the other members at the dyscalculia forum - just to be able to purge whatever’s on your mind, and know that they know excactly what you’re talking about. So go talk to people there (it’s at http://dyscalculiaforum.com) :)
I check and double check and triple check and still…
gah, I hate my mind.
I know what you mean.